Hip-hop violinist Lindsey Stirling overcomes anorexia, critics to find happiness, success

Published: Thursday, April 18 2013 5:30 a.m. MDT

You don't have to conform to be accepted. The greatest value comes from loving yourself for who you are.

That's one message that Lindsey Stirling, international dancing rock-star violinist, wants to share with young people.

"The message I’ve tried to live my whole life is not feeling like you ever have to fit into any sort of box. The world will try and try to get you to conform," Stirling said during her recent stop in Salt Lake City. "Just remember that your value comes from loving yourself for who you are. First and foremost, we are children of God. Then it’s up to us to define who we are."

Take it from a woman who overcame outright rejection from experts in the music industry, along with an eating disorder. Today, the LDS returned missionary who attended BYU is sharing her unique talents all over the globe, has more than 140,000 Twitter followers, 871,000 likes on Facebook and more than 285 million views on her YouTube channel.

It all started with violin lessons.

The violin

As a young girl, Stirling used to attend free orchestra concerts in parks or community centers with her parents in the Los Angeles area. At home, classical music was played on an old record player. By age 6, she started begging for violin lessons.

After a year of pleading, her parents rented a violin from a college music student and paid the young woman to give their daughter a 15-minute lesson each week.

"My parents were like, 'It's a sacrifice for us to give you these lessons.' I mastered it because I knew that if I didn't practice, I'd get no more lessons," Stirling said. "No one else thought a child could learn from 15-minute lessons, but my mom said, 'It’s all I can afford.' So this one gal took me on and I’ve played almost every day since then."

About a decade later, Stirling had grown to love the violin but was burned out on classical music. To energize herself, she joined a rock band and started experimenting with different styles of music. She started to mix the violin with dance elements and found it to be exhilarating. She began performing at talent competitions to earn money for college.

"It was a hit and miss. I thought this could be something new and cool. In the talent competitions I was very well received. People thought it was fun," Stirling said. "But it was also seen as a novelty act, a cute, funny little fluke."

YouTube sensation

In 2010, Stirling had the opportunity of a lifetime as she reached the quarterfinals of the show "America's Got Talent," where she performed in front of judges Sharon Osbourne, Piers Morgan, and Howie Mandel and a national audience of millions. The judges were not impressed by her performance.

"There were times when it sounded OK, and there were times when it sounded to me like a bunch of rats were being strangled. Seriously, that bad," Morgan said.

Osbourne liked Stirling's unique talent and acknowledged a solid audition, but suggested she'd do better in a band.

"I don't feel like what you are doing now is enough to fill a theater in (Las) Vegas," Osbourne said.

Stirling listened patiently to their comments and went home. Despite their discouraging words, and despite the denials by record labels and talent agencies, she didn't give up.

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